As Christians, we believe the Bible. The whole message of scripture is the right message. There is no situation where we should be saying “they believe these verses but we believe these other verses.” We all believe all the verses. I believe that the perspective of grace ties all the message of scripture, Old Testament and New Testament, Romans and James, together in a way that a more legalistic perspective does not. I am going to look at these passages that way – in context, according to a perspective of grace, and against the framework of Paul’s thinking in Romans, Galatians, and his other writings, and against Jesus’ teachings.
In a bit of an online debate over the issues of scandalous grace, the following passage was offered:
“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21
Galatians is the proof-text for the message of grace. It almost isn’t fair to start here, because the entire book is making the point that I am making, and making it much better than I could make it. Nevertheless, this is a great passage to show how to read scripture from a perspective of grace. I want to keep our discussion in context inside the book of Galatians. That means we need to spend a few minutes going over the whole message of the epistle so we can gain a sense of the context of our problem verse.
In Galatians, Paul is hopping mad at the people in the church at Galatia:
“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:6-9, NASB.
And again, even more forcefully, here:
“You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? Does He then, who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?” Galatians 3:1-5, NASB.
What is the gospel he is talking about in Galatians 1:6?
“… knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified. “But if, while seeking to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have also been found sinners, is Christ then a minister of sin? May it never be! “For if I rebuild what I have once destroyed, I prove myself to be a transgressor. “For through the Law I died to the Law, that I might live to God. “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”” Galatians 2:16-21, NASB.
What ‘Law’ is he talking about? THE LAW! No idols, no sabbath work, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, the WHOLE LAW. Somebody show me where is talking about some other law! You can’t, because he is not. Oh my goodness, there are so many complicated ideas floating around about this! Let’s just fly with the simplest and most obvious meaning, that it is the big ten, love God, love your neighbor. By the works of the law no one shall be justified.
He says, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” When you come under grace, you no longer have personal obligation to live under the law, and righteousness springs from a new well. I always say, you cannot have Christian virtue that is natural – Christian virtue requires supernatural manifestation. It is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit as much as prophecy or words of knowledge or speaking in tongues or gifts of healing might be.
Notice how he ties in the idea that the life he now lives he lives by faith in Christ, ‘WHO LOVED ME’! The inception of our Christian walk is that Christ loves us, that He would rather die than live without us. And he brings up the crucial point that if righteousness comes through the law, it nullifies grace. Our ongoing walk, our present behaviors, today, are completely wrapped up NOW in the propitiatory death of Christ. When he talks about nullifying the grace of God and Christ dying needlessly, he is saying the same thing as when I say “the blood of Christ plus nothing” saves us. If it becomes the blood of Christ plus not having idols, or the blood of Christ plus not committing sexual sins, or the blood of Christ plus not having habitual sin, then the blood of Christ is nullified, and Christ died needlessly, because it wasn’t enough to save us.
I once ate at a restaurant where it was a fine breakfast, except there was a roach cooked into my hash browns. So, guess what, it wasn’t a fine breakfast! If you put one little teeny tiny requirement besides belief in Christ on the table, you spoiled it. Now it is all about the little teeny tiny thing, and you can bet that the little teeny tiny thing is the door to many more little teeny tiny things that add up to a mountain.
This isn’t my idea, or some weird twisting of Paul’s message, this is the general message of the entire book of Galatians. This is what they were violating, this is what he is addressing. What I am saying is truly the general point of the book as a whole. Skip this and you skip the real context of the ‘problem’ passage. Interpret the ‘problem’ verses in a way that puts people under law and you commit the exact error that Paul is so hopping mad about.
Does grace advocate sexual sins, and idolatry, and habitual gluttony and smoking and orgies? Of course not!!! Let’s quote the entire passage here:
“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care lest you be consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:13-23, NASB.
This, in context, paints an entirely different picture doesn’t it? It’s like a politician who gets quoted from an interview entirely out of context from what he was saying, making it look like he is saying something completely different.
When Paul says the deeds of the ‘flesh’, he means the deeds of the natural man, the natural mind, the non-supernatural person who is trying to do good by the law. He says, we are called to freedom! Use freedom to walk in the fruit of the spirit, not the flesh. If you try to live by the law like the Galatians, by the flesh, the flesh will win, and you become like Jimmy Swaggart – you preach impossible holiness by day and live it up with prostitutes by night. We do not live by NOT doing the deeds of the flesh, we live by being free, and walking in the fruit of a supernatural day-by-day experience with the Holy Spirit. This passage is all about fruit checking. Does this person seem to have any evidence that there is freedom, that there is supernatural fruit, is there an inner love and joy and peace, or is there anger and selfishness and strife and immorality? The solution to these evils is not to come under law, but to come under grace. So, if one is not under grace, and shows fruits of such, yes, they are headed straight to hell. It isn’t a judgement on the behaviors, so much as it is their choice to live under the umbrella of obligation and law by the flesh without supernatural virtue.
Some have implied that this is too small and technical a point, who can understand it? I say, if you don’t care about this, you miss the entire point of being a Christian. Christian virtue is about changing the source of the flow of motivation and thought to a free and desired and Holy-Spirit born joy. Any other source of motivation, whether it is obvious like a prostitute or concealed like a pharisee, is destined to failure. Notice that Paul looks at the deeds of the flesh that he lists as ‘evidence’ – they are ways to check fruit, but not the means by which one obtains the favor of God. We do not decide in the flesh, because our Sunday School teacher said so, that we are going to have peace and joy and love, and eschew orgies and selfishness. It simply doesn’t work that way. One either comes under grace, and bears the fruit of that, or one comes under the flesh (law), and bears the fruit of that.
It is all about grace, and this passage, in its full context, proves that. I say, jump into the water of real scandalous full-blown grace, believe in the Father’s love for you despite all that you have done or will do. The water is FINE, and you will find power to start living a more holy life from your heart without pretense!!!